Tigers’ slow start is a cause for concern

I hate to do it. I really do.

I’ve never been an alarmist when it comes to sports, especially with any of my hometown teams. I’ve always preferred to let them play the games and then make a judgment call.

With the way that the Detroit Tigers have opened their 2011 season, however, my transformation into a Major League Baseball version of Chicken Little is definitely a possibility.

Don’t get me wrong — 10 games out of 162 is a terribly small sample size to be critiquing.

Regardless, some serious problems plague these Tigers in the early part of the season.

Besides star first baseman Miguel Cabrera — who is leading the team in batting average, home runs, runs batted in, on-base percentage, and total hits — and prized free agent acquisition Victor Martinez, I would be hard-pressed to tell you other players that have really impressed me.

Both at the plate and on the mound, head coach Jim Leyland’s squad will need some serious adjustments to salvage this first month of baseball in the Motor City.

Statistics don’t tell the whole story, but taking a look at the batting totals for Detroit isn’t a pretty sight.

Just four players are hitting above .250, and four other hitters are either under .200 or hovering dangerously close to it.

While batting averages rise and fall like a Michigander’s thermometer in late April, several of the sub-.250 hitters are notoriously average hitters. A recovery from mediocrity is a prayer, at best.

Another major problem for Detroit thus far has been an inability to manufacture runs.

With just four total stolen bases, I’m not sure if it’s inability by the players or unwillingness by Leyland to try and move runners around on the base paths.

Relief pitching, unlike most of the starting pitching, has been shaky at best thus far for the Tigers.

Once a starter begins to labor in the sixth or seventh inning, any relief brought into the game is anything but.

The seventh inning has been particularly troublesome for the Tigers this season.  Enrique Gonzalez and Brad Thomas, among others, have struggled to bridge the gap to  Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde.

Walks are a big part of the struggles, but leaving pitches over the plate in good hitter’s counts are also contributing to the poor pitching performances.

For a team already struggling with injuries to key relievers Joel Zumaya and Ryan Perry, that doesn’t leave many options if a starter can’t stay in a game very long.

Who would have thought that I might start wishing for the likes of Jamie Walker, Brandon Lyon and Bobby Seay?

The lack of progression from several key youngsters is also troubling, and could be a sign that they need more work at Triple-A Toledo.

Centerfielder Austin Jackson currently has more strikeouts than total bases while batting just north of .200; second baseman Will Rhymes has provided sufficient defense, but sports a .182 batting average; and starting pitcher Rick Porcello has not been able to regain his 2009 breakout form, when he went 14-9.

Obviously, young players need time to develop and learn the intricacies of the major league game.

After team management decided to largely stick with the current roster, and not make moves at key positions this past offseason, however, it’s hard not to be upset as a fan.

The “same old team” approach will not work for much longer in Detroit. While all Tigers fans love to remember those exciting playoff games of 2006, it’s time to move back into 2011.

With the way that Detroit has painfully faltered in the second half of past seasons — “three game lead with four games left,” anyone? — a poor start in April could essentially turn 2011 into a wasted season.

For this Tigers fan’s sanity, I really hope I’m wrong.